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Rep Ocasio-Cortez Opposes Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding for LGA AirTrain Project

AirTrain LGA model (A New LGA)

July 29, 2020 By Allie Griffin

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come out against the plan to build a $2 billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport and said she does not want the federal government to allocate COVID-19 relief funds to support the project.

The future of the project to construct a 1.5-mile AirTrain from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport is uncertain, as the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a major blow to the state economy and budget.

At the end of May, Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to help fund Port Authority infrastructure projects, including the AirTrain, which he said would have the added benefit of giving the economy a boost.

However, many residents who live near the proposed route don’t want the project and thus oppose federal funding for it.

Ocasio-Cortez came out against the plan today in the wake of local groups calling up various congress members– in a coordinated effort– asking them to block the allocation of federal funds for the LGA AirTrain.

The congresswoman released a statement today in which she said bailing out the project would be a slap in the face to the surrounding East Elmhurst community — one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“While state and local funding is desperately needed in the next COVID-19 relief package, it would be the ultimate insult to finally send aid to this community in the form of a project that they firmly oppose and that could further jeopardize their health and safety,” she said.

The AirTrain would provide a link between the Willets Point Station and the airport. The public could access the Willets Point Station via the Long Island Railroad or 7 train and then take it to LaGuardia Airport.

Proposed AirTrain route

However, many residents argue that the 7-train is typically overcrowded and can’t support additional riders, particularly those with luggage.

The raised tracks would be built along the Flushing Bay waterfront, which has also raised concern among environmentalists.

Guardians of Flushing Bay, a local coalition that has been critical of the LGA AirTrain, organized a call to action against funding the project earlier this month.

“The AirTrain is an unnecessary vanity project,” the group posted on Twitter. They asked Queens residents to call their representatives about the plan at the start of July.

Ocasio-Cortez, today, said she stands with the coalition, as well as several other community groups and Queens Community Board 3 that oppose the AirTrain project.

“Until such time as a new route is identified, or the community’s concerns are sufficiently alleviated, no federal COVID-19 relief funding should be granted to the Port Authority for the purpose of constructing the AirTrain,” she said.

It’s not the first time the Congresswoman has criticized the project.

In January, she wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration questioning why the agency rejected several alternative plans for transportation to LaGuardia Airport.

However, the project does have some support.

A coalition of economic development groups, unions, civic stakeholders and local businesses known as “A Better Way to LGA” are backing the project.

The group argues that the AirTrain would reduce traffic on Grand Central Parkway and local streets, ease parking issues and car pollution, and provide reliable, predictable travel times for LaGuardia travelers. The proposed route would also not displace any local residents or businesses.

The coalition includes the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Queens EDC and the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation among others.

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Larry Penner

In 2014, Governor Cuomo announced that the estimated cost for the LaGuardia Air Train was $450 million with a completion date of 2019. The Port Authority has budgeted $2.05 billion of funding within the $36 billion 2017 – 2026 Ten Year Capital Plan for the LaGuardia Air Train. This doesn’t include several hundred million more which is necessary to relocate the NYC Transit Casey Stangel Bus Depot. There is no funding within the MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 to pay for this cost. The Federal Aviation Administration will not issue a environmental NEPA finding until 2021.Costs would be further refined as the project progresses through the environmental review process, preliminary and final design, award of construction contracts followed by change orders during construction, due to changes in scope or unforeseen site conditions. The final Air Train cost could end up several hundred million to a billion or higher. Six years have passed with little progress. There are no completed environmental documents or any preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate construction costs. Who can predict the final cost and completion date?
There was always only $3 billion allocated toward the $10 billion new Port Authority midtown Manhattan Bus Terminal. This project has carried a $7 billion shortfall for years. The project has never advanced beyond the environmental review process. There has never been a final determination to rebuild at the existing site or relocate to the Javits Convention Center. Nobody knows if the PA has talked to the Federal Transit Administration about potential funding down the road. No one can predict the final cost and completion date.
Mr.Cotton reminds me of Chicken Little who said “the sky is falling.”
(Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).


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